Jaime Lannister: The Kingslayer
Kingslayer. Oathbreaker. The man with shit for honor.
In my opinion, Jaime Lannister is the best written viewpoint character of George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” epic fantasy series. A superbly crafted character among many other superbly crafted characters, but Jaime Lannister still stands in class of his own. He is the most complex morally gray character I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
For the first two books, Jaime Lannister is withheld from the ranks of viewpoint character. A brilliant move by GRRM. Many of the characters we follow belong to House Stark of the north, so naturally, Jaime is seen as a villain from their perspective. After all, its the family feud between Stark and Lannister that launches Westeros into all out civil war. Since we see the world from the lens of the Starks, we too initially think of Jaime as an irredeemable monster. And for good reason. The first thing we see Jaime do is shove an eight year old from a castle tower after he witnesses the incestuous relations of the Lannister twins. The fall cripples Bran for life, a boy who had dreams of becoming a knight. Bran Stark was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and saw something that would've brought House Lannister to ruin.
Just before Jaime throws Bran from the tower, he utters that famous line to his sister and lover Cersei, the things I do for love. A line that is imperative to understand Jaime’s character. Almost every negative action Jaime has taken throughout his life was because of his love for Cersei. He joined Aerys’ Seven to be close to Cersei, he fathered her three children at her request, and he's killed men or worse to protect her. Jaime wanted Bran dead, but not because he is a heartless monster who feeds on the suffering of children. Bran needed to die to protect his family. The vile sister who’s had his heart since he was a boy and their three bastards born of incest that she passes off as her husband King Robert Baratheon’s children. Robert would surely have them all killed if he ever learned the truth, so the cruel act was one of self preservation not malice.
Aside from crippling Bran, Jaime has many confrontations with House Stark throughout A Game of Thrones. After the capture of his brother Tyrion by order of Catelyn Stark, Jaime attacks her husband Lord Eddard Stark in the streets of King’s Landing. When it comes to Ned, its clear that Jaime holds a personal vendetta. The honorable Ned Stark holds no respect for Jaime, a man who murdered the king he was sworn to protect. He judged him guilty the moment he saw Jaime sitting on the Iron Throne with his sword across his lap, drenched in king’s blood. It would not surprise me if Ned was the first man to name Jaime Kingslayer. Jaime kills all of Ned’s men in retaliation for Tyrion’s capture and then flees King’s Landing to rendezvous with his father Tywin in the Riverlands. The childhood home of Catelyn Stark. Its here were the War of The Five Kings truly begins, as Jaime and Tywin carve a bloody path through the Riverlands.
Upon Ned’s arrest for a fabricated treason, Robb Stark the Young Wolf calls his banners and marches south to free his father. Jaime falls right into the trap of Robb and his uncle Brynden Tully and is defeated and captured in The Battle of the Whispering Wood. His host of 2,250 men was routed or killed. Jaime spends the entirety of A Clash of Kings as a Stark prisoner of war. But we still aren’t given his point of view. He makes multiple failed escape attempts and riles up the northerners with his defiance. Lord Rickard Karstark wanted revenge for the two sons Jaime stole from him. Both of them slain at The Whispering Wood. As thousands of northmen clamor for his head, Jaime masterfully convinces Lady Catelyn Stark to free him in exchange for the return of her two daughters Arya and Sansa. Both of them thought to still be hostages in King’s Landing. Brienne of Tarth, sworn sword to Lady Stark and his cousin Cleos Frey are chosen to escort Jaime home.
In my favorite book of the series A Storm of Swords we are finally granted access to viewpoint chapters of Jaime. These chapters finally give us a chance to peer into Jaime’s mind, read his thoughts, and make the judgement of the kind of man he is for ourselves. While he is undoubtably an entertaining character to follow, Jaime seems to be the man we all thought he was. Violent, arrogant, self serving, and cruel. All he can think about is the many different ways he can slay Brienne and escape on his own. He had no intention of ever returning the Stark girls to their mother, or upholding any of the oaths he made to her in exchange for his freedom. His cousin Cleos is killed after they are attacked by a group outlaws and Jaime doesn't bat an eye. In fact, he only misses Cleos because he was more enjoyable company that the stubborn Brienne.
Afterward, Jaime takes Cleos’ sword and briefly duels Brienne in an attempt to escape, but both of them are caught unawares and captured by the Brave Companions led by Vargo Hoat, who have betrayed Lord Tywin and shifted allegiance to Robb Stark. In an attempt to prevent Roose from betraying his liege lord, Vargo Hoat orders one of his men to take Jaime’s sword hand. The event that kickstarts his character growth.
Jaime is a warrior all the way down to his core, he doesn't care about politics or court culture. By his own words, the only times he feels alive are when he is fighting or when he's with a woman. The loss of his sword hand destroys Jaime mentally, that hand was everything Jaime Lannister was. It was the hand he used to love Cersei and it was the hand he used to kill the Mad King. He falls into depression and loses his will to live, but Brienne drags him back from the pits of despair. In return he rescues her from being raped by the Brave Companions with false promises of sapphires riches.
Upon arriving at the castle Harrenhal, Jaime and Brienne share a bath in the bathhouse. And in a fever induced rant we get what I believe to be among the most important reveals in the series. Jaime tells Brienne what really transpired the day King’s Landing was sacked. He tells her of Aerys’ wildfire plot to raze the city to the ground, killing all of its innocent citizens. Ironically, the act that Jaime is most chastised for, happens to be the his greatest act of morality, and no one ever knew it besides him.
Jaime leaves Harrenhal a changed man. When he arrives at King’s Landing following the deaths of both King Robb Stark and his son King Joffrey Baratheon, Cersei senses the change within him. Their relationship falls apart with Cersei remarking that he doesn't look like her anymore. A clear sign of her narcissistic behavior, she only really loved Jaime because he was a reflection of herself. But now, after months in captivity and a missing sword hand, she couldn't care less about him. Despite their relationship being an abomination, one of the saddest scenes I remember involves Jaime asking Cersei for a dance at their son Tommen’s wedding to Margerey Tyrell. Cersei proceeds to scorn him, saying she’d rather not fumble about with a one handed knight. Jaime holds a tough exterior but its easy to see that her words cut him deeply.
Throughout A Feast For Crow, Jaime works towards his new goals of becoming a knight worthy of a page in the White Book. A book containing the life achievements of the most legendary kingsguard members through Westeros’ history. The only notable entry on Jaime’s page happens to be his betrayal and murder of his king Aerys. He becomes determined to fill his page with honorable deeds in the hopes that someday the title Kingslayer could be forgotten, maybe he could be remembered as Goldenhand the Just. He sends Brienne off to find Sansa Stark with a Valyrian steel sword forged from Ned’s sword Ice. Swearing to uphold the vows he made to the late Lady Catelyn. She chooses to name the blade Oathkeeper.
One of those vows Jaime made was to never again take up arms against the houses of Stark and Tully. His resolve is tested when Cersei orders him to retake Riverrun from Brynden Tully, the man who handed him his most devastating military defeat. Jaime besieges the castle and uses cruel threats of infanticide to convince Lord Edmure Tully to take his castle back from Brynden and open the gates for the Lannister forces. His plan succeeds and Jaime manages to retake Riverrun for the crown, without shedding a single drop of Tully blood.
Jaime’s greatest triumph of AFFC involves him finally letting go of his obsession for Cersei. After her plans to have Margerey Tyrell imprisoned backfire on her, Cersei ends up in a cell below the Sept of Baelor. With the religious zealots known as the Sparrows taking control of the city from her. She writes a desperate letter to Jaime, begging her golden knight to rescue her once again. When Jaime receives this letter he burns it without ever reading it. Seemingly leaving his toxic lover behind for good. Cementing his road towards redemption.
A Dance with Dragons has very little content for Jaime Lannister. He spends the few chapters he has continuing his conquest of the Riverlands, and upholding his vows to Catelyn. His story ends with an unexpected visit from Brienne where she tell him that she has found Sansa Stark and that he needs to ride with her alone in order to save the Stark girl. Readers of Brienne’s viewpoint chapters know this is a lie. Where she is really leading Jaime is directly into the den of Lady Stoneheart. The new alias of Lady Catelyn Stark who was brought back to life with the magic of the god R’hllor. Death left Catelyn twisted, both physically and mentally. Her only reason for living is the drive for vengeance against those who murdered her family. She was prepared to hang Brienne unless she brought her Jaime Lannister. The man she holds responsible for all the horrors that befell her family. We have been waiting 10 years to witness this reunion as the penultimate novel The Winds of Winter has yet to be released. Its hard to believe Jaime’s story will end with an execution by order of Lady Stoneheart, but knowing the way GRRM operates, Jaime may just die before he gets to redeem himself.
Jaime Lannister is a deeply flawed but ultimately relatable man. He is the first born son of a proud and powerful lord who he could never seem to please. A member of the kingsguard who soiled his name with a murder that saved an entire city. And he was the lover of his twin sister who's influence had brought Jaime nothing but pain.
A line by the character Stannis Baratheon seems to describe Jaime perfectly, even though Stannis wasn't even referring to Jaime in the first place. A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good. Each should have its own reward. I believe to truly redeem himself, Jaime must face judgement for his most heinous crime, the crippling of Bran Stark. While Jaime has changed for the better, a few good acts cannot undo all the harm that he's caused. When TWOW eventually releases, Jaime will have to face Lady Stoneheart and plead his case as a changed man. With vengeance being her only driving force, its hard to see Stoneheart absolving Jaime of his crimes without getting something in return. Yet, I still can't see Jaime’s story ending without redemption. Although the dumpster fire of a final season saw Jaime throw his arc in the trash to die with his abusive sister, I cannot believe that GRRM would waste such a brilliantly written character in such a tasteless manner. I hope that when A Song of Ice and Fire eventually concludes, Jaime Lannister will be immortalized in the White Book as Goldenhand the Just. A beautiful end to a one of a kind character.